Red Sox not concerned by rising whiffs in postseason
Strikeouts accepted part of Boston's aggressive offensive strategy
ST. LOUIS -- Despite all that went wrong for the Red Sox in World Series Game 2, Boston still entered the bottom of the ninth with a reasonable hope of tying the game. Down just two runs, the Red Sox could have mounted the type of rally they have so many times before.
But then Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal entered. Strikeout looking. Strikeout swinging. Strikeout swinging. Series tied.
For an offense that has lived and died all season with big swings and power production up and down the lineup, strikeouts have become an accepted part of their identity. When they are knocking balls out of the park, as they did regularly in scoring a league-best 853 runs this season, no one seems to notice or care.
When they are scuffling a bit, as they have at points this postseason, the Red Sox still don't dwell on it.
"Runs scored and wins are the important things," manager John Farrell said. "We might do it differently than other teams, but strikeouts for us are one of the things that we clearly accept."
Clearly. The Red Sox have won more than their share of games in October, which is why they are primed for Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (air time)/8:07 p.m. ET (first pitch) on FOX. They have also struck out 125 times along the way, by far the most of any playoff team.
Though the Sox have played more postseason innings than anyone but the Cardinals, their rate of 10.4 whiffs per night is also by far tops among teams that made it to their League Championship Series (next closest were the Dodgers, at 8.5 strikeouts per playoff game).
Under normal circumstances, those numbers might be concerning even for the whiff-happy Sox, who struck out 8.1 times per game in the regular season. Boston's on-base and power numbers are all way down from where they were in the regular season, resulting in a significant drop-off in total offense.
But these are not normal circumstances. This is October, meaning the Sox are facing some of the best pitchers in baseball on a nightly basis. Rosenthal, for example, has struck out 36 percent of the batters he has faced throughout the regular season and playoffs. Game 2 starter Michael Wacha would have ranked 12th in baseball in strikeout rate had he amassed enough innings to qualify.
"We've faced good pitching," Sox catcher David Ross said. "I mean, David Price, [Alex] Cobb, [Jeremy] Hellickson, whoever Tampa Bay was throwing at us. Then we faced maybe one of the best pitching staffs ever strikeout-wise in Detroit, and we're coming here with a bunch of studs and guys throwing a million miles per hour out of the 'pen. It doesn't let up.
"During the World Series, there's nobody they're running out there that's not really good. You don't have a choice. You'd better get used to it."
Even so, strikeouts to some extent can be a choice for good hitters. Earlier this week, Dustin Pedroia spoke about the nagging left thumb injury he has played through all season, explaining how it forced him to cut down on his swing. As a result, Pedroia added 11 points to his batting average and 25 points to his on-base percentage, at the cost of significant home run power.
There may be even more merit to such an approach against the Cardinals, a well-below-average defensive team. St. Louis ranked 29th in baseball this year in UZR/150 and 22nd in Defensive Runs Saved, advanced metrics that paint strong pictures of overall defensive performance. Then there's the eye test: The Cardinals have committed seven errors in 13 postseason games, losing World Series Game 1 in large part because of their defensive miscues.
Putting the ball in play more frequently might help the Red Sox take advantage of that weakness. But it would also play against their own primary strength -- "those grinding at-bats you hear so much about in Boston," as Cardinals manager Mike Matheny put it.
"A main thrust of our approach is to drive up pitch counts," Farrell said. "That means guys will hit with two strikes frequently to have quality at-bats. The tradeoff [is that] over the course of a nine-inning game, there's a cumulative effect that works back in our favor. And that's to try to chase a starting pitcher, to get into that middle-relief corps, where you might have maybe a greater opportunity against.
"But still the strikeouts, that's something that we've lived with and dealt with all year long."